New York Divorce & Matrimonial Attorney
Staff: As one of New York City’s top tier divorce lawyers you’re often involved in “celebrity” dissolutions and your book, Soon To Be Ex uses many high profile breakups as case studies; what’s different in those cases?
Jacqueline Newman: You’re right, in New York we have more than our share of celebrity divorces and they are definitely handled differently. These high profile notables are in the public eye and so their public image is very important. They will be negotiating with the underlying theme that they don’t want bad press. Another distinction from a more typical divorce as a lawyer, you’re dealing not only with the celebrities directly but also their agents, assistants, managers, sponsors… so there can be a lot of extra opinions that influence the decision process. Of course the biggest difference is often that the amount in controversy can be immense. The main thing that drives these cases though is the public image issue, at our matrimonial law firm we see that many want to settle quickly even if it’s not to their financial advantage – they want privacy and to protect their reputation.
Staff: Why are celebrity breakups America’s guilty pleasure?
I think there’s an element of schadenfreude, getting pleasure from the misfortune of others. It’s probably part jealousy of the lives the people they see on television appear to live, and they consciously or otherwise want to see high profile people fail. Probably the same thing as rubber necking a car accident.
Staff: I would imagine the children of celebrity couples can be a complex divorce issue? How do you see these play out?
Jacqueline Newman: Child custody and support issues can be really challenging in high profile splits. Courts are very protective of children and judges get seriously angry if children are involved in a breakup that’s playing out in the press. You do not need a kid going to school and hearing all about mom and dad’s divorce. Another issue is scheduling and schools. Often an actor is on location so setting up a schedule can be a challenge; some children don’t attend school but rather are tutored where the actor is working. This works when they travel as a family but post-divorce the non-celebrity parent may want more stability so there’s a fight over whether the child will attend a regular school.
Staff: There have been a rash of celebrity divorces lately; what are the most visible?
Jacqueline Newman: You’re right, celebrity divorce lawyers have their hands full recently. Amber Heard and Johnny Depp are getting lots of attention with the domestic violence allegations. It’s a mess because the marriage was short term and it sounds like they didn’t have a prenup. They’ll settle quickly because there’s so much negative press. Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale got a lot of press; the typical husband falls for the nanny. Jennifer Garner – Ben Affleck…the list is long. My advice? Always have a prenup and stay out of court – settle your dispute out of the public eye.
Staff: Why are celebrity marriages often short lived?
Jacqueline Newman: We see this every day. There is unbelievable pressure on a celebrity couple – they’re living their marriage in the public eye. When image and reputation are so important you get in a fight over putting the laundry away; you end up yelling at each other at the coffee shop and suddenly it’s national news. The spotlight can be brutal on a marriage. It’s the same with long separations when one spouse is on location or traveling with a sports team or band. At the other end of the spectrum some celebrity spouses get caught up in the Hollywood world and initially it’s really fun with the red carpet evenings and the rest but when reality sets in your discover this might not be the person you want to live with for the rest of your life and divorce is the result.
Staff: Why do we see so many prenups contested in these high net worth breakups?
Jacqueline Newman: They sign the agreement when they’re happy and planning a lifetime together; when things go south they have a different idea of what’s fair. Sometimes it’s just that people want to take their shot as they have little to lose and a lot to gain – it’s often a leverage thing in a divorce settlement. They learn quickly it is really hard to overturn a prenuptial agreement, especially here in New York.
Staff: What about athletes and political divorces, are these different from the entertainment industry?
Jacqueline Newman: Absolutely they’re different. We see athlete marital dissolutions rarely play out in the press. There’s big team pressure to settle quickly and quietly because you’re not dealing only with the player’s reputation but also the team brand. Sports marriages can be even tougher than the Hollywood sort as players have a shorter career shelf life than actors which brings its own pressures and they get traded often and the entire family is continuously uprooted. Political divorces are really interesting. Reputation is incredibly important – there’s an element of people expecting certain celebrities to be cheating but America holds their politicians to a higher standard. Also political marital dissolutions are more strategic – I think they play it closer to the vest and smarter.
Staff: It seems like adultery is a big issue with the high profile divorce. What’s the legal significance?
Jacqueline Newman: Adultery is irrelevant from a legal standpoint in nearly every state but it can be very relevant in settlement negotiations where image and reputation are factors.
Staff: Some celebrity marriages last a lifetime – why?
Jacqueline Newman: There are some although not many. I suspect these couples have figured out the rules and they put family first. The celebrity spouse is secure enough in her or his career that they don’t grab for every job. Tom Hanks can pick and choose any role he wants. If Rita says, “Don’t do this one Tom, we are planning a trip during that time,” Tom can and does decline the opportunity. What about Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell? They never got married – maybe that was the secret.